Even if you’re not planning a full renovation, owning a French property will sooner or later mean needing to use tradespeople, from builders to electricians, and plumbers to roofers
Purchasing a French property almost always means the start of a long and enduring relationship with the nearest DIY store. And, relationships with local tradespeople will often prove just as long term and, perhaps, even more important. Indeed, such of my earliest memories are of having ‘un apéritif’ with my parents and the local builders who went on to become family friends!
So how do you find good tradespeople? As always, the best place to start is via word of mouth. Asking neighbours for recommendations is generally the best way to begin. However, if you are in a more isolated location, this can prove to be a non-starter, in which case, asking the secretary at the local ‘mairie’ (town hall) is always a good idea. Using more locally based tradespeople is a sensible course of action as they tend to do a good job; they have their reputation to maintain and local gossip soon reveals who is difficult to get hold of, who is in high demand and who should be avoided at all costs!
Big or small
If you have a big job, perhaps a roof or walls needing to be rebuilt, keep your eyes open when you are out and about for properties that are being worked on. These will usually have a board outside with the name of the contractors in question; not only can you get a good idea of the standard of the work being done, you can also see if the site is being kept tidy (always a good sign) and how fast progress is being made, and you could always stop and ask the owners if they are happy with the work. For instance, if you see a property where the roof is being replaced and work suddenly stops, it could be that the contractor is waiting for a delivery of unusual ridge tiles, or it could be that he is running multiple jobs and has simply ‘disappeared’ for a while, which is less than ideal. Don’t be afraid to ask people for recommendations but equally, bear in mind that the recommendations are only as good as the person doing the recommending and their knowledge of the trade in question.
For smaller jobs, such as tiling a bathroom or installing a deck, small ad websites such as Le Bon Coin and Facebook Marketplace are a great source of reasonably priced local artisans. Local online buy and sell or community groups are also a good place to ask for recommendations. It is also easy to take a look at someone’s previous work if they are based locally; if they are any good, they will be happy to show you.
Larger jobs, which involve more responsibility, perhaps a general contractor role, an architect, a roofing or electrical contractor, require even more careful research. If you can’t find anyone recommended by a trusted source, use Google to search for businesses in the area and read the reviews. Once you have met to discuss your requirements make sure you ask to see some examples of similar work. When choosing a good tradesperson it is all about establishing if they know what they are doing and checking that you know what you should be looking for, so if you don’t, try and find a friend, neighbour or industry professional who does!
Rule of three
Once you have found an artisan, the next step is to get a quote or ‘un devis’. The general wisdom used to be to obtain three different quotes. However, producing a quote is a time-consuming process and if the artisan in question believes you are unlikely to use his services, he or she is unlikely to even bother producing one. Obviously if you have a large project, you will need to compare a couple of quotes but generally, it makes more sense to find out what the hourly going rate for the particular trade is, find out roughly how long the work should take and make a calculation yourself. If the quote is close to your calculated ballpark figure, that is probably good enough and equally, anything much higher or much lower should ring alarm bells.
If you do get multiple quotes, don’t make the mistake of opting for the cheapest; this can prove to be a costly mistake. The quote will be low for one of two reasons, either the tradesperson has nothing else on and is desperate for the job, so he has deliberately priced it low to get the work, which is not a good sign, or he is planning to throw cheap labour or materials at it. Again, this is potentially not a good sign as you are unlikely to obtain a high standard of work. A quote which is much higher than the others means that the person only wants the job if it is lucrative enough. So, should you have the luxury of selecting from several ‘devis’, discount the highest and lowest and go for the middle ground.
The quote needs to show their Siret number ((verify the Siret number here: infogreffe.fr) and their 10-year insurance cover (assurance décennale) in addition to the usual contact details and a breakdown of the work involved. You will need to sign this ‘devis’, writing on it ‘Reçu avant l’exécution des travaux, bon pour accord’, and add the date next to your signature. This makes it a legally binding contract between you and the artisan.
Access all areas
At this stage you should check that they have everything they need to work without delays or interruptions. This could include things such as access (for example, are you going to be on site or do they need keys), is there an adequate water and electricity supply, do they need extension leads, are they expecting to use any of your equipment? The questions you need to ask will vary from site to site so make sure you have covered everything and don’t be afraid to ask what you might think are ‘silly’ questions. Even the most experienced professional can overlook things from time to time and avoiding any unnecessary delays will keep the overall costs down.
Check with your ‘mairie’ if you need any form of permit if the work is taking place close to a road, or if you are expecting large delivery trucks which could affect traffic. If the work is going to be noisy or disruptive it is a good idea to inform the neighbours too and apologise in advance if required! You should also establish clear defined access if the work is taking place inside so that you limit the entry and exit points into and out of the building, thus keeping the mess down.
If work such as removing an internal wall is planned, you need to establish if they are going to sheet up and block off the working area or if that is your responsibility. A good artisan will try to keep the mess to a minimum but with the best will in the world, they are unlikely to be as concerned about your property as you are, so establishing ground rules before work starts will avoid misunderstandings as the work progresses.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, remember that the vast majority of French artisans take great pride in their work and do an amazing job, so sit back, relax and enjoy renovating your French home!